Regular readers of this fine publication will most likely very familiar with Dundee quartet Vladimir as Mike and I have been extolling their virtues for several years now (writes Andy Wood).
From their early shows they showed an immense deal of promise and I think they have continued to develop and build on that to become one of the best bands around today through a combination of brilliant songs, live performances, recordings and sheer hard graft. A few people who saw them early on loved them but saw them as something pretty niche or underground but I certainly didn’t and it has been a pleasure watching them grow up in public.
2014 was probably the first big year for the band as they released two excellent singles ‘Smoke Eyes’ and ‘Come Over’ and were hand-picked to support The Twilight Sad on a sold-out five date English tour.
Along with those dates they appeared at a number of festivals including a hugely impressive debut at T in the Park where they played to an enthusiastic and sizeable crowd on the T Break stage, attracting one of the biggest crowds of the day on that stage. More importantly, they certainly didn’t look nervous or out of place but instead played a blinding, intense and confident set. They ended the year on a high again supporting The Twilight Sad at Glasgow’s O2 ABC.
2015 looked to be more of the same with an excellent new single ‘In My Head’, a headline tour in England and a date with The Fall on their home turf in Salford. However, bassist, Josh Gray, decided to leave the band. Probably the most quietly spoken member of the band Josh was nevertheless, to my mind, an essential part of the band and his departure seemed to knock future plans firmly on the head.
However, Vladimir found a replacement in the form of a loan signing and continued to gig on before a permanent new signing was found in the form of James Ritchie who joined them in time to support The Libertines in Nottingham in front of the biggest crowd the band have played in front of to date.
Having not seen Vladimir for a few months I saw them supporting Sleaford Mods a few weeks ago and they were absolutely brilliant, introducing a new song and winning over a crowd that, ostensibly, was not their crowd. For me, this is part of the thrill of Vladimir in that they refuse to play safe in front of a partisan audience but instead seek challenges.
Then again, it might be difficult for them to play safe as there is no one quite like them either live or on recordings. They perfectly match a moody, intense sound with catchy hooks and memorable tunes. There is still a visceral rawness to their music but it has always been accompanied by brilliant songwriting.
2015 will finish on a bit of a high for Vladimir after the sucker punch of Josh’s departure with more dates supporting The Fall and a series of headline shows including at The Cool Cat Club on November 7th.
Singer/Guitarist Ross Murray and I spoke over a couple of beers in the DCA about the trials and triumphs of being in Vladimir while also fielding the rather bizarre attentions of a lady at the next table who seemed oblivious to the fact the conversation was being recorded before she proceeded to inform us of what exactly would happen if we made it to a third date with her. Nothing in the world of Vladimir every runs quite smoothly and I shan’t repeat what the third date (or even the second date) would culminate in but what I would suggest is that if you have yet to make a first date with Vladimir I’d thoroughly recommend you do. At the very least your mind may get blown! I can also heavily recommend the three singles currently available.
How did things go with the change of line-up? Did that present a bit of a problem or cause a setback?
“Slightly difficult. More difficult personally than musically. Obviously… it’s just weird because it was my best mate and you see them all the time then they don’t want to do something. It was a bit strange.“
Did it come as something of a shock or surprise?
“It was kind of a shock but just dead weird. Like seeing someone nearly all the time everyday then not seeing them is bizarre. It is dead strange but we just took it in our stride. It was fair enough – no bad blood at all. If that’s what he wants to do then cool, we’re his mates, we’re not going to hold him back from something he wants to do. If he doesn’t want to be in the band and wants to go and sort his life out it’s fair enough.
“I think he just wanted to focus on getting stuff together. When you’re in a band it’s hard to have a normal life. Musically it never really fazed us but personally I think we took it as a big shock. Nothing like I’d known before. Any other mates outside of music it’s not like that, you’re mates. In music, if you don’t want to be in a band anymore you don’t see them. A dead strange situation to be in.”
How did James come to be in the band?
“I don’t know to be honest. I was just told. Well, we were thinking we need to get a new bass player and Sam was like, ‘what about James?’ I’d met him once or twice but never knew him. He just came along and gelled in well. It’s never been hard at any moment, it’s never been a struggle, it’s never felt that this is hard going trying to bed him in. It was just dead quick.
“He’s a really good musician. Josh was a great musician as well, so is James so it was never like a hard thing. If we got someone in that was a lesser musician who wasn’t as good it probably would have been a struggle but because he’s just as good it’s made for quite a smooth transition. It’s been class and he fits in writing songs with us as well.
“We’ve had our first trips away – not just one gig but staying overnight and he seems to have enjoyed it. That’s normally what I thought could be the make or break when you’re away in the van for hours on end but he seems to have enjoyed it. So it’s all good. He’s one of us now. Better than I thought it was going to be.
“I thought this is going to be fucking brutal, it’s never going to be the same again but it’s maybe even better now as everyone’s on the same page. We’re all just loving it. I think everyone is having a good time. Really having a good time. I think for a bit before Josh left not everyone was having a good time which was no good. I don’t think you should be in a band if you’re not having a good time. There’s no point.”
You had Billy Mitchell (Krooked Saints/The Twist) playing with you for a while. Was that always going to be a temporary arrangement.
“Yeah, just because we had shows booked. If we hadn’t had shows booked we could have just waited but because we had so many shows booked we had to get someone in to do them. We didn’t want to let promoters down which might affect us in the future and obviously we had the gig with The Fall which everyone wanted to do.
“Because we practice where Billy practices it was like the easiest thing. It was good. Billy did us a huge favour or otherwise we would have been really struggling but it was always temporary. It was a mutual thing. We knew after a certain gig it would end. We were always wanting to find someone to write with us not just to play live.”
Billy has his own projects and writes for them but, at least in the short term, he seemed like a good fit. It was a bit weird initially though not seeing Josh.
“It was a bit weird for us too.”
How are the new songs going? You debuted one at the gig last week supporting Sleaford Mods and it sounded great.
“Good. I think they are coming on really well. I think we’re going in good places. Sometimes when we’re writing we kind of think ‘this is not what we should be doing’ but just now I think we know what we’re wanting. It’s dead exciting.”
How often do you practice?
“There’s no set time or date. It’s Billy’s place (Studio 57) we practice in and he’s there at quite regular hours and he was like ‘I’ve not seen you for weeks’ but it’s cos we were going in to practice at ridiculous times and staying to ridiculous times. We just work in a weird way. Some times we’ll practice nearly every night and sometimes we’ll just practice for two hours because we can’t be bothered. It’s just like we’ve got to be in the moment.”
Do you have your own practice space there? How does that work out for you?
“Yeah we’ve got our own room. It just looks like a crack den. It’s a total state but it’s class. It’s just our place. If we get a song idea there’s no time limit we just sit and that’s it, there’s no rush. Before we were always rushed in a practice studio. Now we just sit for as long as we like and don’t need to rush anything. And we’ve got our own gear and that. We’re buying more all the time. We’re all skint but when we get a wee bit of money we buy more stuff. We bought our own mixing desk a few weeks ago.”
Do you have any more recordings planned?
“Yeah, we’ve been talking about it but we just don’t know what or where or when. We want to do something soon, we want to release something again. Things seem to be going our way so it would be good to release something. There will definitely be something out early next year.
“I like the idea of going to different places to record but then I like going to record things and going home to sleep on them, I really like that. The last single ‘In My Head’ we did that. I enjoyed going down to Scotty, our sound engineer’s house, and recording it there, just chilling out, going home then the next day you can go back and record another bit. Like with the practice space you weren’t so time limited.
“I do like going to other places, it feels a bit special when you go somewhere you’ve never been before. At the same time it can work out a bit intimidating as well. It’s finding the right kind of balance I think. We’re going to do a new single but we are working towards an album. As James has just come into the band we want time to see how it goes then we’ll sort the album out. A single will be next and we’ll take it from there.
“I think that we’ll have a lot going on next year and we want to get as many people on our side before we release something big. It would be stupid to release an album now if next year we play to twice as many people as we played to this year. You want people to buy it, whatever you release.”
I think though that having an album out can often open even more doors.
“The album thing is… I don’t think we all feel we have the album we want to record yet song wise and, at the same time, two of us are unemployed and one works part-time so there’s no chance we could afford to go into a studio to do an album.
“That’s not the main reason though. We just don’t feel like we’ve got an album yet. I think when we do have the songs we’ll know. We want the album to be special. We don’t want it to be just like, oh that was that, it’s decent for a Dundee band. We want it to stand up against other albums. To be a proper album. It should be as good as everyone else’s released that year. Maybe better.”
More from Ross and Andy tomorrow with guest appearances from Pete Docherty and Mark E. Smith.
Vladimir play the Cool Cat Club at Beat Generator Live in Dundee on Saturday (7th November) with support from Sahara, Melophobia and Francis Duffy & The Kingpins. More info.
More information on gigs and merchandise here – www.vladimir.bigcartel.com/
Vladimir band portrait by Cameron Ritchie